V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Rowling defends outing Dumbledore

Published in Sun Media papers, October, 2007.

Little Emily Cooper fixes her blue eyes on an invisible point in the distance, scratches her chin, and with a perplexed expression asks, "What does gay mean?"

The child's just been asked what she thinks about her favourite author, J.K. Rowling, outing the almighty wizard Albus Dumbledore as a gay man, and looks ponderously at the interviewer.

Mom and dad may have some 'splaining to do.

When the author of the Harry Potter series dropped the bombshell at New York's Carnegie Hall last Friday that the Hogwarts headmaster was gay, collective gasps of surprise and triumphant I-told-you-sos erupted the world over, causing a stir that continued to reverberate yesterday in Toronto, where Rowling made her only Canadian stop on a book tour.

She knew "early on" that Dumbledore was gay, "probably before the first book was published," a demure Rowling told reporters before reading to fans at the International Festival of Authors. She spent seven years writing before the first instalment in the series went to print in 1997.

"The characters came more and more into focus as I worked, and I can't honestly say there was a moment when I decided that," she said. "It's just something I knew or came to know."

Rowling is a quiet presence. She is genteel in manner and attire, her mahogany shirt-dress and knee-high boots sedate but sharp. Rarely does she break out from her slightly crooked smile. But when hammered by a deluge of media questions about Dumbledore's sexual orientation she becomes visibly exasperated.

The big question: Why now, after the seven-book series is over, is she outing him?

"Because I was asked a direct question at Carnegie Hall," she said simply.

Moved by the teen's personalized question about Dumbledore's love life, Rowling said she felt compelled to come clean, saying her own revelation was also "quite freeing."

"I answered honestly. I suppose the other half of the answer is that Dumbledore's ill-fated infatuation was a key part of the plot of Book 7."

The wizard was smitten with his rival Gellert Grindelwald, and blind love became his demise.

"It would certainly never be news to me that a brave and brilliant man could love another man," Rowling said.

Outing Dumbledore also helped one audience member confront his own sexuality, she said, as he "came out" that same night.

"It is what it is. He's my character, and as my character I have the right to ... say what I say about him."

Rowling is clearly airing her political views, said Mavis Reimer, Canada Research chair in the culture of childhood at the University of Winnipeg.

"I think it's about making a political statement on the varieties of human sexuality that would be regarded as progressive," Reimer said.

While Rowling has said her books champion tolerance, Reimer points out the covert contradiction between inclusion -- the many cultures that are represented -- and exclusion throughout the series.

"I think, on a covert level, there's an emphasis on chosenness which is problematic," she said, referring to Harry being marked as the "chosen one" from the start.

"If you look at the explicit level of the series, there's no doubt she works for inclusivity. I would see this sexual outing of Dumbledore as another way she's working at being inclusive."

Rowling may write a Potter encyclopedia and, though unlikely, she didn't rule out writing a prequel to the series.

"I miss it, I really miss the world. But it's healthy, like the breakup of a marriage, not to see each other and then be friends afterwards," she said.

Fan Vincent Jacob-Ferland, 14, came from New Brunswick to see Rowling, and shrugged casually when asked about the Dumbledore revelation, saying: "It's just his choice. It doesn't affect the story." 
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